Category Archives: discipleship

A Scriptural Stomachache

We go to the Word of God to settle our souls. We look to fill ourselves with God’s words that are sweeter than honey (Psalm 19:9–10). We rush quickly to grab the promises contained therein. And well we should.

But, read rightly, the Scriptures should also unsettle us. They should stir us up. They should prod us with commands as they protect us with promises. We should sometimes leave our time in the Word with a Scriptural stomach-ache. God’s Word both comforts and confronts.

God’s Word is certainly sweet; however, it is simultaneously a sword and scalpel (Hebrews 4:12–13). We don’t get to choose which one we get when we open the Word. We let the Spirit of God do His painstaking work in us. Sometimes that work feels like a gentle hug, but sometimes it feels like an invasive search light.

Eugene Peterson’s book Eat This Book about a proper approach to the Scriptures is built around the Apostle John’s strange vision in Revelation 10. After seeing a mighty angel come down from heaven and stand with his right foot on the sea and his left on the land open up a scroll and begin preaching, John wanted to take notes. He wanted to record this crazy scene he was witnessing; however, he was instructed to step forward and eat the scroll.

Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, “Go take the scroll that is open in the hands of the angel who is standing on the sea and the land… Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey” (Revelation 10:8–9).

While the scene sounds as strange to us as it likely was to John, Peterson’s words regarding the bitterness of the Scriptures deeply resonated with some of my experiences in the Word of God.

“But sooner or later we find that not everything is to our liking in this book. It starts out sweet to our taste; and then we find that it doesn’t sit well with us at all; it becomes bitter in our stomaches. Finding ourselves in this book is most pleasant, flattering even; and then we find that the book is not written to flatter us, but to involve us in a reality, God’s reality, that doesn’t cater to our fantasies of ourselves.”

Lately, I have been reading the book of Acts with a few groups of women. But rather than reading Luke’s account, I feel like the Holy Spirit has been reading my own lackluster faith back to me.

The early church was marked with expedient obedience, wonder, awe, and expectancy. My own walk with God is often more muted and mundane. Often, I don’t see God doing the same types things because I am not obeying and living with my eyes wide open. While the accounts of the early church first stirred me, the longer I sit in them, I find my heart increasingly sickened by my selfishness and lack of trusting obedience.

I don’t like feeling convicted. It is terribly uncomfortable to be exposed as one who likes to talk and write about the gospel but is slow to share it with others. But God’s Word is doing its good work and beginning to compel me to simple obedience in the spaces where God has placed me. If I want fresh accounts of God’s faithfulness, I will have to step out in clumsy obedience and faith to my neighbors and fellow soccer mommas.

Read slowly and spiritually, the Scriptures should sometimes leave us with a stomachache. The Word of God convicts and exposes, but it will not leave us there. For the sick finally seek the aid of a physician, and the soul sick will run to the gospel medicine offered by the Great Physician.

When was the last time the timeless and timely Word of God left you with a tummy ache?

Being Chased by a Lion

Throughout this entire year, a short phrase from a worship has been running long loops in my heart, mind, and soul.

“Your goodness is running after, it’s running after me.”

Typically, I don’t like being chased in any form or fashion; however, a happy exception can be made for the idea of being chased by the goodness of God.

“Your goodness is running after, it’s running after me.”

It’s a catchy phrase to a melodic tune. As such, it doesn’t surprise me that I find myself humming it as I vacuum the hallway or singing it as I sit waiting in the carpool line. Yet, I find myself wrestling with what it implies for our lives.

After all, when we think about being chased by the goodness of God, we tend to think of dreams fulfilled, longings met, and successes secured. When we think of goodness chasing us down, we tend to bring our own picture of goodness to bear.

However, the longer I have sat with this phrase and sung this song, the more I realize that God’s goodness running after me tends to look and feel wildly and widely different than I imagine it might.

His goodness does not take the tame, worldly molds I wish it might. Rather, His goodness more often takes the form of a scouring brush or a sharp goad pressing me in ways that I do not initially wish to trod. Sometimes, his goodness running after me seems to take the form of suffering and hardship nipping at my heels as I am seeking to arrive in a place of long-desired comfort and rest.

In C.S. Lewis’s book The Horse and His Boy, the main character Shasta experiences goodness running after him in sharp and even frightening forms.

Throughout his horse back journey, a young boy Shasta has multiple experiences of a lion pursuing him. The lion chases him, forcing them to swim for his life. Then later, the lion chased and even wounded his traveling companion just when they thought they were finally about to reach their destination.

Exhausted, confused, and feeling sorry for himself, Shasta begins to open up to a mysterious companion about all the interruptions and troubles that had seemed to follow him all of his life.

“I do not call you unfortunate,” said the Large Voice.
“Don’t you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?” said Shasta.
“There was only one lion,” said the Voice.
“What on earth do you mean? I’ve just told you there were at least two the first night, and –”
“There was only one: but he was swift of foot.”
“How do you know?”
“I was the Lion….I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so you could reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.” …

Shasta was no longer afraid that the Voice belonged to something that would eat him, nor that it was the voice of a ghost. But a new and different sort of trembling came over him. Yet he felt glad too” (pages 175-176).

All along he thought danger and harm were pursuing him. Yet, the One who was chasing him had been guiding him and pushing him towards his desired end. It did not make sense until much later that the Lion was protecting and providing for his perilous journey.

Just as Aslan pursued Shasta, our God pursues us. Only He does not always chase us with a lottery check or a basket of obvious blessings. His goodness is so much deeper and wider and longer than our small and earthly images of goodness. He chases us with His goodness in varied forms that often do not feel like blessing or prosperity. But his chasing and provision always press us towards the ultimate Good. He keeps us moving toward His glory which is our ultimate good, even when we would prefer an easier, less arduous way.

He stands as a rear guard behind us (Isaiah 52:12 and Isaiah 58:8). He hems us in behind and before (Psalm 139:5). He follows us as a watchful parent trails a child just learning to ride a bike, ready to catch or steer or redirect.

His goodness is indeed running after us, but it is a goodness that barely fits into the tiny boxes of what we typically define as good. His goodness always runs after us, chasing us deeper into the everlasting arms of the only One who is truly good (see Mark 10:18 and Luke 18:19).

This Good One runs after us today. May we not miss His goodness and all its sometimes surprising forms.

On Benefits

When I hear benefits, I immediately think of insurance plans, copays, deductibles, and group numbers. Adulthood will do that to you. Thankfully, when the Scriptures talk about benefits, they speak about something far more incredible than insurance plans.

In Psalm 103, David invites both himself and his listeners to consider and count a very different set of benefits.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s (Psalm 103:1–5).

As a celebrated king who reigned during the golden era of Israel’s history, David knew a thing or two about benefits. Yet, when he wrote poems and songs, he did not elaborate on his home or the homage given him; rather, he recounted the spiritual blessings bestowed by God.

Paul, when writing to the Ephesian believers, borrowed the financial language of a city familiar with wealth. However, like David before him, he elaborated on the spiritual blessings that are bestowed on those who trust in God. After a short introduction, he presents his thesis and then unpacks it with countless blessings.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3).

The verses following the aforementioned one are replete with rich examples of the benefits of being in Christ. Verses four to fourteen are littered with words like blessed, lavished, fullness, inheritance, and possession. Yet, Paul does not mention physical comfort or financial peace. Rather, he reminds the Ephesians of the spiritual blessings they have in and through the person of Christ.

In a world where we tend to count our IRA’s, our profits, and our bank accounts, the Scriptures command us to count a very different set of benefits. These will not deplete or decay (see Matthew 6:20–21). They cannot be repossessed or reneged. They don’t wrinkle or ruin with age. Unlike all our physical possessions, they pass with us from this lift on to the next.

Benefits

The benefit of bodies,
Powered by pumping hearts,
The care of the Creator
Who every breath imparts.

An inheritor of language,
Born into a world of words,
Woven wide with wonders
His goodness undergirds.

Buoyed by borrowed breath,
Blessed by first and second birth.
Worthless and unworthy, yet
Esteemed at His infinite worth.

Counted among your family
Though failing countless times.
Assurance and endurance,
Separation from our crimes.

Forget not all His benefits;
Rather, recount and rehearse.
For us to receive HIs blessing,
Our Christ took on the curse.

Earthly blessings are bonus.
Hold them lightly as such.
But these eternal benefits,
Count and cherish much.

The Pure and Sore in Heart

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God  (Matthew 5:8). 

The Greek word makarios, used repeatedly in the string of beatitudes, literally means happy. Happy are the pure in heart. But so often, when we think pure, we think prudish, stuffy, or pristine. At worst, we think holier-than-thou and inaccessible; at best, we think naive. 

But those who are holy-in-Christ are far from those things. They pure in heart are usually the most sore in heart. They are holy because they wholly know their desperate need. They are pure because their deep knowledge of their deep impurity has led them to the pure One. They see God because they see their sin. And seeing their sin, they see and savor the One who saved them from their sin. 

We are declared pure by imputation. But we become pure by Spirit-led conviction. The more convicted we are of our sin, the more convinced we are that we need for a Savior. The more convinced we are of the love of God for us, the more we are convicted to strive solely after him. 

When my middle-school boys say that someone’s basketball shot is pure, they mean that it seems to flow effortlessly. But what seems so natural to NBA players has been habitually practiced and hourly-honed. While we come by purity simply by way of a Savior, we do not come by it cheaply. A purity so expensively-purchased is meant to be intentionally-practiced. 

Purity comes by way of practice. Singular focus comes by way of straining and striving. Paul, writing to his protege Timothy, who is already pure in Christ, commands him to strive toward purity and righteousness. Before Paul commands Timothy to live as a man of God (imperative; do), he reminds him that he is already a man of God (indicative; done).

But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things…to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 6:11-14). 

Note the active commands Paul recommends to one already commended by God: flee, pursue, fight, take hold, keep. This means that the pure in heart sorely moan and groan. The pure are pierced by sin and boxed by their efforts at becoming the pure ones they already are in Christ. They struggle with the hazardous waste they find in their hearts. But their pollution leads them to the pure One. Coming by such a costly purity by Christ alone, they are humble and accessible. 

The Pure in Heart

The pure in heart
Sorely moan.

Stabbed and sutured,
They’re Savior-sewn. 

The pure in heart
Are not pristine.
Polluted and purchased,
They’re Christ-clean.

The pure in heart
Are not starched.
Bent and broken,
They’re heaven-arched,

The pure in heart
Sorely groan.
Strained and stretched,

They’re God-grown. 

Oh, that we might be pure in heart in this Savior-sewn, Christ-clean, heaven-arched, and God-grown way. 

What a Waste

An alabaster jar worth a year of wages. A woman lavish in her love. Practical disciples who call this waste. An intimate betrayer who wastes his friendship with the Christ for 30 pieces of silver. A man willing to waste his life for the unlovely.

The theme of waste is woven into the 26th chapter of Matthew’s gospel.

Hearing this chapter read this morning by my oldest son, the juxtaposition of the beautiful waste of love from the alabaster jar and the treacherous waste of Judas struck me deeply.

Jesus came to her defense when the disciples indignantly asked, “Why this waste?”

“Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the word, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” Matthew 26:10-13.

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As he defended this brave women, I cannot help but imagine Jesus thinking of the crowds who would call His life a waste. Just as He came to the defense of the wonderfully wasteful woman, the Father would come to His defense as the crowds mocked His wonderful waste on the Cross.

The Wasteful Ones
Reflections on Matthew 26

They say of her, “Wasted perfume,”
As she breaks her precious jar.
They’ll say of me, “Wasted life,”
As blood flows my body they mar.

There are better ways to invest,”
They say as perfume begins to rush.
“There was so much He could’ve done,”
They’ll say as fluids from me gush.

They say, ”With great needs on earth,
Why does she squander all on one?”
They’ll say, “Our hopes of a new reign
Now with you have come undone.”

I say of her, “You let her be,
Let her lavish her oils on me.
She does a beautiful thing,
Her memory for years will ring.”

He’ll say, “Forgive them.
Pour your love down from that tree.
This is most beautiful deed, my son.”
I’ll cry, “ Totelistai. It is done.”

 Nothing offered to Christ is ever wasted. It is treasured and touted by Christ Himself.

May we find, fill, and break our own alabaster jars.

A Mascot for Muddled Times

I cannot say we are those with a penchant for excellent mascots. As one whose college mascot was “The Blue Hose” who married a “Purple Paladin,” it should not surprise me that my children’s youth sports teams have featured such mascots as the “The Pink Fluffy Unicorns,” “The Green Ninja Lizards,” and “The Camo Sharks.”

In light of such a streak, it would not seem strange to select the Bereans from the Bible as a mascot for our muddled times. The courage, curiosity, and Scriptural anchoring of these Jewish brothers and sisters have much to speak to us today. Like us, they lived in a time of great upheaval to what they had always believed and been taught. Their spirit of openness to hear from the apostolic band of brothers was balanced by an honest questioning and sifting what they heard through the sieve of Scripture.

For us today, reasoning, idea-mixing, and intellectual dialogue are no longer isolated to a few central locations like the city gate or the synagogue. In fact, there are hundreds of would-be prophets and politicians (both trained and untrained) who offer their opinions and worldview to us at the scroll of a finger. Credible, non-credible, and even incredible sources vie for our attention and our allegiance. Popular voices use their platforms as megaphones, making it hard to turn down the noise. As such, the Bereans who held both the tension between being open-minded and gullible prove an example for us today.

As was his custom upon entering a new area, the Apostle Paul went to the synagogues where he would reason and open the Scriptures, “explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead” (Acts 17:3). After being sent away from Thessalonica for his own safety, Paul and Silas came to Berea and headed directly to the synagogue. The audience they found there left an impression on them.

“Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men” (Acts 17:11–12).

They were eager, but not too easily swayed. They were curious, but cautious, wanting to search the Scriptures to see for themselves. They were not afraid to reason and reckon before they received what they heard. Their opinions, desires, and long-held customs were not their compass points, the Scriptures were.

After all, what Paul and Silas were sharing with them forced them to have to let go of long-held and long-cherished beliefs and customs. Yet, they did not refuse to listen, entrenching themselves in the bunker of their beliefs. They had open ears but rightly-skeptical hearts. However, when the truths they were hearing aligned with the Scriptures, they were willing to shift accordingly. In a polemical culture where assimilation and fortification are two poles, we have much to learn from the posture of the Bereans. Thus my vote to make them our mascot for a muddled time. If Stanford’s mascot is a tree and Syracuse boasts a giant orange man, biblical Bereans do not seem so strange a selection.

The Bereans

You were meant to conquer,
Yet let a cross conquer you.
You were to upend Rome,
Yet Pilate upended you.

You were to restore our city,
Yet You died outside its gate.
You were to usher in a kingdom,
Yet You were ushered out in hate.

I’ve seen the Scriptures all my life
They’ve been my utmost concern.
But hints of the Suffering Savior
Shout as each page I now turn.

The living logos has leveled
A lifetime of cultural learning.
The Holy Spirit stirs my soul,
For a better king I’m yearning.

I love the model the Bereans left us. I love how the Spirit saw fit to inspire Luke to include their example in the book of Acts. For those who say the Scriptures are not relevant to our time, the Bereans say otherwise. Oh, that we would be more like them, that we would raise children more like them. Oh, that we would be more committed to the searching the Scriptures for what God is saying than using them scaffold what we want to them to say.

Harboring Pilate: A Lenten Devotional

It’s easy to want to wash our hands of the one who washed his hands of Jesus. It is much harder to admit that a potential Pilate lives within each of us.

Pilate’s People-Pleasing

As fifth governor of the province of the Roman province of Judaea, Pontius Pilate lived in the tensions of appeasing very disparate crowds. He was given rule over what Rome considered to be the unruly Jewish people. Some were scrupulous, refusing to bow the knee to the Emperor. Some were zealous in the vein of Judas Maccabees who had led a revolt under the Seleucid Empire. Some assimilated into the Roman culture, wanting comfort and peace. What a mixed bag Pilate had been apportioned. His job was to appease the Jewish people enough to keep the Pax Romana while not also pleasing the powers that had propped up his precarious power.

It’s no wonder he was a people-pleaser who vacillated with the whims of the crowd and pandered to the people. In the gospel accounts, we find glimpses of goodness and see flickers of faith in him. He sensed the innocence of Jesus and tried to push the uncomfortable decision regarding his fate back into the Jewish court systems (John 18: 28-32). He had a private conversation with the accused in his headquarters, away from the rumbling of the crowds. A master of posturing, he shuffled around answering the questions that prodded his conscience (John 18:33-38).

However, when push came to shove, he went against his conscience and sided with the sentiments of the people to protect his power, position, and platform. Declaring with words the guiltlessness of Jesus three times and seeking to find a way to release him, his actions betrayed him nonetheless (John 18:39-40; John 19:4-6; John 19:12).

Our People-Pleasing

Before we wash our hands of the one who washed his hands of the innocent blood of Jesus, we should take the time to inspect our own idol-ridden hearts (Matthew 27:24-26).

Have we not waffled between two different crowds, shading the sentiments of our consciences like chameleons? Have we not relied on crowd-sourcing and peer approval rather than the source of all life and the approval of the One who approved us at so great a cost? Have we not pandered to people, fearing their censure more than the censure of the One who created all people? Have we not made other men and current standards our measuring rods rather than the standards of the Scripture?

Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves. But when t hey measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding (2 Corinthians 10:12).

It is far too easy to trade the invisible audience of One for the audible, tangible audiences before we which we find ourselves judged daily. When we shuffle around the loud, dominant opinions and ideological landmines all around us, we follow Pilate’s delicate dance of people-pleasing. When we care more that we appear judicial than that we obey the commands of the Lord, we show our inner Pilates.

The Perfect God-Pleaser

There is but One who never collapsed under the pressure of the opinions of man (John 2:23-25). There is but One who withstood the pressure of the Enemy to trade eternal approval for earthly approval (Mark 4: 1-11). The One who deserved the loud approval of the Father was deafened by the excruciating silence of God as He endured the cross. The One of whom Pilate washed his hands offers His precious blood to wash us of our people-pleasing.

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18).

May Pilate’s failure invite us into the pleasure of the Father secured for us by Christ.

Stillness is Not Stasis

In a nation historically known for its restlessness and in an age where productivity and action are highly valued, stillness seems like an antique. In such a culture and with hearts that tend towards restlessness until they find their rest in Christ, it is easy to confuse motion with meaning and stillness with stasis.

Recently, a friend sent a short devotional sound bite from John Piper where he talked about the wind blowing dead leaves. While they are often whipped into motion, they are not alive. Their movement is not intentional, but incidental. I hated to admit how much of my life was marked by mostly meaningless motion.

The ability to move and to act are gifts from God given to us as those created in His image. However, sometimes motion and activity can be a distraction from deeper living. According to French philosopher Blaise Pascal, “All of humanity’s problem stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” While shaded with some hyperbole, this statement addresses our tendency to use busyness and motion as shields from facing the deeper problems of our human existence.

In his book Fool’s Talk, Os Guinness mentions two poles towards which the hearts and minds of unbelievers can be pulled: the dilemma pole and the diversion pole. Because God’s word is truth, the unbelief of a human does not change reality. Thus, those living in unbelief have two options. The first option is towards despair, because if they are consistent with their belief that there is not god and therefore no meaning, life becomes a dilemma. Humans are reduced to chance accumulation of cells and proteins with no greater purpose. The other (much more common) option is towards distraction and diversion. On this pole, people realize that God’s reality is likely true but don’t want to have to bow their knees to Him. As such, they keep themselves busy, distracted, and entertained to avoid the deeper realities they want to avoid.

While Guinness is speaking specifically about those who do not believe in God, I find his words convicting for my own heart. It is far easier to stay busy with activity than to sit and meet with the Lord, bow my will before Him, and walk in humble obedience to Him.

In his poem “Reflections in a Forest,” W.H. Auden addresses a similar meaningless motion that marks humanity.

Turn all tree-signals into speech
And what comes out is a command:
“Keep running if you want to reach
The point of knowing where you stand…”

Our race would not have gotten far,
Had we not learned to bluff if out
And look more certain than we are
Of what our motion is about;

So many of us are bluffing. I know I often am. And I do know what our lives are supposed to be about: living for the Lord’s glory, knowing Him, and making Him known. Sometimes it is just easier to move than to be still.

But stillness with and for the Savior is not stasis. Like water building up behind a dam, collecting potential energy for the time when it is to be released to do intentional work, stillness for the purpose of intimacy with the Lord is power.

When Moses found himself in a situation as a leader that seemed to require immediate and intense action and activity, his utter dependence upon the Lord led him to command the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today…The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent (Ex. 14:13–14).

Stillness that is birthed out of trust and belief in the Savior is never stasis. Rather, it leads to intentional activity. Before we can step into meaningful activity and intentional work, we are invited to remember that God is the ground from which all of our work comes and the One to whom all our work is directed.

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our fortress (Psalm 46:10–11).

May we not confuse motion with meaning or stillness with stasis. May we sit before our God long enough to remember the purpose and power behind all our activity.

Reigning in Responsibility

When both nature and nurture agree on something, what is a soul to do? Both personality tests and the test of time agree that one of my greatest strengths is responsibility. While this sounds respectable and often comes in handy, hyper-responsibility can easily get out-of-hand, especially in ministry settings.

While the world medals the necks and trophies the shelves of responsible people, sometimes habitual sin can be strengthened underneath the shining surface. I see this in my self. I watch it in my son who is so similar to me that it scares me.

Responsibility, in its right place, can lead to lives marked by order, effort, and excellence; however, over-grown hyper-responsibility can lead to lives marked by anxiety and paralyzation or crippled by the need for control .

I am not championing an abdication of personal responsibility. I am reminding those who tend to hyper-responsibility to abdicate the stolen seat that belongs to the Lord Himself.

In his poem” The Second Coming,” William Butler Yeats begins with the following powerful lines:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre,
The falcon cannot hear the falconer:
Things fall apart, the center cannot hold.

Those who struggle with hyper-responsibility have two options: to limit their world to small spheres they erroneously feel they can control or to find a better center for their lives.

Responsible people are usually only able to rest in the presence of one more responsible and capable than themselves. Sometimes, those can be hard to come by in human form; however, there is One who is rightfully responsible for all of life (Acts 17: 24-27). He upholds the ever-expanding universe with His word (Hebrews 1:3). He categorizes and corrals the stars (Isaiah 40:26). He is the sustaining center of all things and in Him all life holds together (Colossians 1:16-19).

If He does these things, He can handle my schedule and my syllabus. He can handle their report cards and their college application processes. He who manages myriad microorganisms and macro-economies can manage my heart and my home.

I’m not a tattoo girl, but if I were, I would get these truths inked on my arms. I need to be reminded of them daily, as my soul slinks back toward the center without my even realizing it. Weekly, I have to sit down and re-size my circles of concern and responsibility. Insidiously, things that are concerns sneak into my circle of responsibility, leaving me weighted down, at best, and paralyzed, at worst. They slowly sap the joy and peace Christ purchased for me at the cross. They steal my focus from what the Lord has actually called me to do by demanding that I am responsible for things that are not mine to carry.

Sitting long in the presence of the Lord, I am able to own what is mine and release what is not. In fact, over the years, I have learned to add another layer to my processing: ours. As one who tends to have two speeds (all or nothing), and two categories (yours or mine), the Lord is adding ours. For even in the few things that are my responsibility, I am working together with Him (Colossians 1:28-29). He is my yoke-fellow, the One who longs to be invited into the tasks at hand, the One who directs and energizes the tasks at hand (Matthew 11:28-30).

The Nexus

“The Nazarene is the nexus;
In Christ the center holds,”
When self seeks to steer,
The Holy Spirit gently scolds.

The ever-expanding universe
He upholds with a word,
Yet you steal the center?
How asinine and absurd!

Let Him be the Lord He is.
He alone does all things well.
“He is center; I am spoke,”
May both life and lip tell.

Harboring Hatred and Hope: A Lenten Journey

We are officially in the Lenten season, a forty-day period in the liturgical calendar that is intended for reflection and preparation for the celebration of Easter. Some people seek to give things up for Lent as a way to wean themselves from sins of commission (the wrong things we do or the lesser things we make ultimate). In past years, I have given up lesser comforts (like sugar or Starbucks runs) to make space for Christ who is our eternal comfort. Some people take things up like various forms of service or sacrifice to lean into the sins of omission (the good things we leave undone). Having done both, and finding Lent here before I really had time to prepare for the season of preparation, the Lord laid something different on my heart this year.

Lent will lead our hearts to the familiar events of Holy Week. Palm Sunday: when God’s people welcomed their peaceful king who rode on the back of a colt with shouts of “Hosanna.” The Last Supper: when Jesus ate one last deeply significant and deeply symbolic meal with his disciples before his impending death. The Passion: when the Light of the World allowed himself to be extinguished as the sun hid its lesser light in grief. The burial in a borrowed tomb: when the One who owned all things was buried in a borrowed tomb; when the Rock of Ages had a large rock covering his death place. The Resurrection: when death was silenced by a life that could not be held.

As we read the familiar events and stories, it is easy to read the stories with a moralistic lens, dividing the characters into good guys and bad guys, our team and their team. We quickly, almost innately vilify Pilate, the High Priests, Peter, the crowds, and Judas. Their erring judgement and ugliness of heart seem so obvious to us as we look back.

This year, rather than vilifying those who played such sinister parts in the events of the Passion week, I am asking them to guide me more deeply into my own sin. Surely their actions and attitudes were wrong, but I want to ask the hard questions about the seeds of similar sin habits in my own heart. While their sins and failures are obvious when full grown, their deeds were nurtured by the soils of their souls.

When I look more deeply at them, they compel me to ask uncomfortable questions. What nascent tendencies are lying hidden and latent in my own heart? Am I harboring seed-sized versions of their obvious sins in my own heart? If so, what am I doing about them? Am I in denial of the potential of sin’s destructiveness in my own heart and life? Am I hiding them from the light, thinking I can manage and control them? Am I willing to take the militant actions of repentance and mortification that continually uproot their insidious spread in my heart?

In the coming weeks, I want to explore what I am harboring in my own heart. I want to invite you to join me. To be a believer is to harbor both hatred and hope in one’s heart, to be simultaneously sinner and saint. We will only treasure our Savior to the degree that we understand the sin-sickness from which He saved us and continues to sanctify us.

We each harbor a fickle, fair-weather mob within us. We each harbor a people-pleasing Pilate within us. We each harbor a headstrong, self-assured Peter within us. We each harbor a power-protecting, image-controlling high priest within us. We each harbor a disappointed and despairing Judas within us.

Only to the degree that admit the hatred we harbor in our hearts will we begin to value the hope that we have in Christ. Thanks to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, those who trust in Him also harbor hope, righteousness, and holiness.

I pray this journey into the hated and hope we harbor will lead to a deeper worship of our Christ!